February
25th 2012
LDS baptisms of the dead explained & contextualized

Posted under: American history

Via RealClearBooks, here’s a sensible explanation of the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead by Samuel Brown, which he argues is part of a universalizing impulse as well as reflective of the faith’s nineteenth-century origins:

First, it is a solution to what some scholars call Christianity’s “scandal of particularity.” By this they mean that Christianity claims that salvation comes only through Christ. If that is true, though, what about those who had no conceivable way to hear of Christ, let alone to confess him? What justice is there in a Gospel that arbitrarily denies heaven to people merely by token of their place of birth? Joseph Smith and his Latter-day Saints answered emphatically, “None.” The Mormon solution to the scandal of particularity was not that Christ is unnecessary, but that Christ can be brought to everyone in the afterlife. While the notion offends many modern ears, the solution has a sort of ambitious coherence.

Second, baptism for the dead is a reflection of early Mormon ideas about the nature of family and human relationships. Though in the 20th century Mormons emphasized a more Victorian interpretation of these beliefs, early Mormon beliefs about family were stunningly universal. The family of heaven encompassed essentially every human being in early Mormon belief. Mormons understood baptism as the mechanism by which individuals were adopted into that vast family of heaven. On this view, baptism for the dead represents the hope that all of humanity will be united in the afterlife as one harmonious family. Mormons, rather than looking down at the damned with pious glee, are exploring every possible avenue to get the supposedly damned into heaven. That they employ the very physical rite of baptism to unite the human family reflects more than anything the assiduously literal and physical bent of Mormon thought.

Baptism is all hokum to me, whether it’s infant baptism, adult baptism, or baptism for the dead.  I certainly understand that people are resentful of what they see as the imperious baptism of their dead relatives, especially relatives who weren’t of any branch of Christianity, but if you don’t share LDS beliefs, it shouldn’t really matter, should it?  (And if you secretly believe postmortem Mormon baptism works, then maybe you should get yourself to the nearest stake and convert!)

71 Comments »

71 Responses to “LDS baptisms of the dead explained & contextualized”

  1. koshembos on 25 Feb 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    It seems that I am the only Jew commenting on this blog. Jews, in particular, have objected to the after death colonialism by LDS. One reason may be that this country is the first not engage in open season on Jews and the success Jews experience in today’s American society. Jews want to stay Jews. Actually, they always did.

    For secular folks for whom religion is history and culture, LDS efforts are distasteful. We typically believe that the dead are not with us anymore and any attempt to repossess them cross a line.

  2. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    I don’t see why LDS Christians are any more distasteful than mainline or evangelical Protestants or Catholics. Catholics are instructed to pray for the souls of the dead, and they may pray for you without talking it up much. They also venerate and pray to relics, which are drops of blood, bones, and/or other body parts of saints. Most Protestant sects and denominations are freer of occult-like rituals, but Protestant theology in general is brutally restrictive and cruel: no salvation but through Christ, so those who happened not to hear about Christ or even to have lived before Christ? Hard cheese! It’s eternity in hell for the lot of them.

    My bottom line is that every religion is utterly strange when you look at it closely. (After all, the central ritual of Christianity is a reenactment of a cannabalistic feast.) If you don’t believe that LDS baptism can possibly be effective, then is it really worth all of the tsuris?

  3. widgeon on 25 Feb 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    I am teaching a course on “American Utopias” this semester and we’ve spent a fair amount of time on the “every religion is utterly strange when you look at it closely” theme. They read a great article on Catholic monasticism that forced them to put Catholics in the same analytical category as radical millenarians and perfectionists who formed communal societies. So I’m with Historiann on this. The students were surprised about the Mormon baptism practice, but not all that appalled. And I’m grateful for the Mormons genealogical archives as a historian.
    And Stephen Colbert just converted all dead Mormons to Judaism, which is pretty much the perfect response.

  4. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Heh. I hadn’t heard that about Colbert–you’re right, it’s perfect.

    Your course sounds fantastic, widgeon. And yes, the LDS church has done a tremendous public service with their genealogical records as a direct result of its beliefs in postmortem baptism.

    (Can you pls. post in the thread or send me the cite for the article on monasticism you reference in your comment? Thanks!)

  5. Emily on 25 Feb 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    My reaction to the intent and theology behind baptism of the dead is that, fundamentally, it’s an inclusive act with the kindest of intentions, so I look on it pretty sympathetically.

    But I can see how, for Jews in particular, it might feel like a second, symbolic attempt to erase Holocaust victims, even though that’s not at all the motivation behind it. The problem is not so much whether it is effective in the afterlife as the fact that in this life, Mormons seem to be affirming that yes, it is unacceptable that they were Jewish.

  6. Emily on 25 Feb 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    (And I will add that I’m a Protestant who believes in universal salvation, so yes, I do pray for non-Christian as well as Christian friends and relatives who have died. What’s the distinction I’m drawing? The public statement of it, I guess.)

  7. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Emily, thanks for your perspective. I guess your second comment is what I was getting at: the LDS are just more public about what other denominations are up to anyway.

  8. Emily L. on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    I am a Mormon undergrad at BYU who was pleasantly surprised to see this in my blog reader this morning. I am a big fan of Historiann, but have never commented. I had also never thought of the baptism for the dead practice in terms of its 19th century origins — but I find this historical context very interesting.

    To add another bit of information to this comment thread — the practice of baptism for the dead is not meant to guarantee salvation or conversion, but is seen as an opportunity — that if in the afterlife someone of another faith wanted the opportunity to accept the gospel, or the LDS belief system, then having these ordinances performed would allow them that opportunity.

    At least in the way I practice and understand my own LDS beliefs I think that the practice of baptisms for the dead isn’t meant to affirm the unacceptability of another person’s faith. I think the LDS belief system, and definitely my own belief system, acknowledges that all religions have truth to them, and that there is much good about the Jewish religion (and almost any other religion), and that there is truth and goodness and inspiration/revelation given to people of all faiths, and that some people are meant to be practicing other faiths while they are on the earth, that it is divinely inspired or designed that different people are Jewish, or Muslim, or Protestant, etc. because that is where they can accomplish the most good, and learn the things they need to while on the earth. Therefore, performing baptisms for the dead isn’t meant to signify that another faith is unacceptable — but as a way to show that it will all be worked out on the other side, that we can all have the chance for eternal salvation if we so choose it, regardless of the faith we practiced (or didn’t practice) here.

    Anyways — sorry for the long, religious comment, and I realize my comments are completely biased, but just adding another perspective.

    Thanks for the great post, and in general the great blog!

  9. Emily L. on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    After reading the entire article that you quoted from, including the last paragraph, I realize my comments were in line with what is expected from Mormons and their usual explanation of the ritual. I should have known I wasn’t as profound and/or unique as I thought I was being :)

    I think I should add to my comment, though, that I can definitely understand why someone would be offended by the ritual, and I understand the anger, and feel that in many cases performing the ritual for certain individuals is inappropriate. But, that the ritual is done out of goodwill and love, and not meant to claim the superiority of the LDS belief system over others.

    Sorry for being so terribly long-winded. Thanks again for the great post!

  10. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    No apologies necessary Emily L.–thanks for reading, and for finally commenting! I had no idea that I might have any readers at BYU, so that’s certainly an interesting bit of news.

  11. Contingent Cassandra on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    That’s fascinating. Thanks for posting the link, Historiann; it’s good to understand more about Mormon thinking on this subject.

    My thinking is very similar to Emily’s. The question of universal salvation is very much a subject of conversation in the (relatively liberal, Reformed/Calvinist) Protestant circles I frequent. We’re not so much concerned about Jews; that question seems to have been settled in my denomination some time ago (how long, I’m not sure), with the argument that God made promises to Abraham and his descendants, and that, although we don’t know quite how it will work, God doesn’t break promises, so Jews must be included in salvation. But there’s definitely discussion about people of other faiths, and no faith, and the general consensus seems to be that we have hope that they will, in some way, be saved through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but that that salvation doesn’t necessarily depend on their believing in God and/or Jesus in this life (one element of Reformed theology that comes in handy for this subject is that we really believe that God ultimately makes all the decisions; even faith in God is, ultimately, a gift from God). However, that’s a hope, not certainty; the principle that God is very big and very hard to know and we don’t completely understand God’s ways is very much present in these discussions.

    We also believe that baptism is a visible sign of a pre-existing fact (that we belong to God, and have been saved through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross). Since it doesn’t actually change anything, it is not necessary for salvation. We still take baptism quite seriously, though, and interestingly, Mormons are the only baptized Christians whom we would want to re-baptize (or, rather, baptize in the sense that we understand baptism) before they joined the church. Any other baptized Christian (Catholic, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, etc.) we would, on principle, refuse to re-baptize, because baptism isn’t something you do twice (I’m not sure exactly why). That’s despite the fact that the Catholic understanding of baptism is quite different.

    All that said, and even though I don’t believe Mormon baptism changes anything either, I’m still disturbed by their baptism of the dead, especially the dead of other faiths. For me, at least, I think it’s partly a matter of respect, for them and for God; it’s one thing for God to make decisions about their fate, quite another for other human beings to do so. and, as Emily points out, there’s the difference between holding beliefs (or even praying for an outcome) publicly, and doing so privately (though the Mormon baptisms and plans for baptism are fairly private; they’re not announced or publicized). There’s also a fear of the kind of thinking the action represents, and the possibility that it will spill over into actions and attitudes in this world. After all, the anti-semitism that fueled the Inquisition and pogroms and the Holocaust didn’t maintain that level of violence in between those episodes, but some of the same attitudes underlay both those explosions of violence and more day-to-day religious discrimination and hegemony. And sometimes it took centuries to move from one to the other. While I don’t see any sign at all that Mormons are headed in that direction, both beliefs and the ways in which they’re expressed do, as Brown points out, change over time. I can see how Jews, especially, based on their very long history, would worry.

    But given what Mormons believe, it sounds like these baptisms are the right thing for them, from their perspective, to do. Life in a pluralistic society can get quite complicated at times.

  12. Contingent Cassandra on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    P.S. I was writing at the same time that Emily L. was, and referring to Emily (no L)’s comments.

  13. Rachel on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I think there are a lot of fine distinctions missing in this conversation.

    First, while Jews are perhaps the most outspoken critics of this practice, there are plenty of non-Jews, many of whom are professing Christians, who also object to this practice.

    Second, although Stephen Colbert is funny and his satire is clever, in this case it actually misses a major aspect of Judaism’s take on conversion: one can not only *not* convert someone else (which is true for most religions), but prospective converts must be turned away/rejected three times before the conversion can occur, the point of which is ensuring sincerity and commitment.

    Third, there is a difference between praying for someone and baptizing — or semi-baptizing or sort-of-maybe-baptizing or proxy-baptizing. Baptism is a ritual, a practice, not merely a thought or belief. For Jews in particular, rituals matter and even if it’s an incomplete process, it nonetheless starts a process that for Jews is the height of apostasy, heresy, and idolatry: accepting salvation through Christ (Mormonized or not) is one of very few things Jews are forbidden to do even to save their own lives. Thus doing it on behalf of a Jew, even if they’re dead and even if the process places them only in the halfway house of Mormonism, means that Mormons are placing Jews at the precipice of the worst possible thing a Jew could do within Jewish theology. So even if it doesn’t matter in that most Jews don’t believe in an afterlife, it still means that another group is, as koshembos points out, engaging in the worst sort of colonialism, the type that makes a group go against the core of its own belief system. Clearly Mormons don’t care, but that’s one reason it is so offensive to Jews in particular.

    I don’t think, even if Mormons believe they do it from a place of “love and goodwill” that any Jew could ever see it as such. And while I won’t speak for other religions, I doubt they see it as loving.

  14. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Here’s a question–do Mormons practice infant baptism, or are they like Baptists and have children wait until they’ve reached the Age of Reason? I don’t know.

    I’m asking because of CC’s comment about her denomination requiring rebaptism for Mormon converts. (I guess my larger question is what’s so different or strange about Mormon baptism that CC’s church treats them differently from other Christians?)

  15. Contingent Cassandra on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Also (and I *will* stop after this), Emily L’s very thoughtful and gracefully-worded comments remind me how much *every* religious tradition allows for a variety of attitudes, expressions, and interpretations of common beliefs and actions. Branches of my own tradition managed to spawn Fred Phelps (though he now identifies as Baptist) and the instigators of the Salem witch trials, among other developments with which I have absolutely no sympathy. And, interestingly, the idea that “it will all be sorted out on the other side” is one that Emily L and I share — perhaps with the difference that I don’t believe that any action on this side is necessary to make that happen.

  16. Contingent Cassandra on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Okay, one more: I’ve heard at least one pastor say that we accept any baptism “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (but I’m quite sure that we’d also accept a baptism in which the first person of the trinity was referred to as “Parent,” “Creator,” or even “Mother”; the key part is the trinity). Apparently, at least by my denomination’s lights, Mormon baptism somehow doesn’t meet that criterion, but I don’t know how/why. Nor do I know what we do about baptized Unitarians (if such people exist; actually, I’ll have to ask a member of my church who was raised Unitarian/Universalist — and comes from a mixed Jewish/Christian background — whether she was baptized in that denomination, ours, or both).

  17. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Unitarian baptism? Now I’ve heard it all!!!

  18. Feminist Avatar on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    The branch of protestantism that I was brought up in believed that because God and also salvation through Christ exists outside of linear time that the potential for salvation always existed. And, moreover, that the Holy Spirit brought his message to all people in all times, they just needed to accept. Therefore, everyone has been offered salvation through Christ. For this reason, we were regularly told stories about remote tribes in Africa who were discovered to be Christians despite having never previously met a white person! (And, yes, the explicit racism of this was there in these stories!)

    I also know Catholics and Protestants who have been rebaptised when converting across sect; mainly because they see this rituals as important signifiers of their conversion. AND, I also know people who understand baptism as a washing away of sin and get rebaptised everytime they return from ‘backsliding’.

    But, I also think because of the importance of rituals to faith that we underestimate the offensiveness of baptising people without consent. I think it’s very easy to say ‘well if you don’t believe it’ what’s the problem. But, it reminds me of one of those lifeswap shows where a Christian swapped with a Muslim and couldn’t bring himself to kneel and pray in the mosque, because the Bible says worship no other god but me. As his Muslim friend argued, but if you don’t believe in the Muslim faith then you are not worshipping. But, the Christian couldn’t bring himself to kneel, because at some level he understood that the ritual of kneeling was important. Psychologist often tell us that if we want to ‘be’ something, if we do the actions eventually the mind follows – so if you smile, you will come to feel happy etc. And, I wonder if the offense of this sort of thing, lies in a similar gut belief in the importance of ritual behaviour to making faith in the person (rather than ritual behaviour being a sign of faith), and so an action like baptising the dead, becomes an attack on another’s spiritual practice.

  19. Rachel on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    As another lurker and a Jew who has been reading this blog, I am really surprised at why you question why we would be offended by this.

    To understand why, you actually have to at both religions in context, not just Mormonism. There is a tradition in Judaism never to speak ill of the dead, because they cannot defend themselves. Desecrating a grave is an unthinkable sin. A dead body is prepared for burial carefully: a person watches the body the entire time, so it is never alone or treated with disrespect. The body cannot be mutilated in any way (though, contrary to popular belief, you can be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos or piercings). It is believed by some that people will come back to life in the condition in which they were buried: that is no longer a universal belief. But even if the soul or breath is gone, the body is important and always treated with respect. The person who was is treated with respect.

    Posthumous baptizing — and I’ve always had it explained to me that the person is now and forever retroactively Mormon, in LDS beliefs, which is rewriting history — shows a fundamental disrespect for the person who was, the way they lived their lives, the way they died. It is especially distasteful to me when the people in question were murdered because they were Jewish: Holocaust victims, victims of pogroms, etc. It shows a fundamental disrespect for the people themselves: Mormons are not asking if the dead want to be Mormon. The Mormons don’t care who they were. The individual doesn’t matter.

    Further, Jews do not proselytize. We do not seek converts. If someone wants to convert and tells this wish to me, I am supposed to tell them that no, they should really think about it, it’s not easy and won’t solve all their questions. (I have indeed done this for interested people, who decided for themselves whether or not to convert.) It’s a long and arduous path to convert, even when not to Orthodoxy. I have been solicited many times by people (generally not Mormons, actually) telling me to convert, and people telling me I will go to hell otherwise. My response is always, as Ann said, “but I don’t believe in your hell.” But that only covers me, and not the people who aren’t armed the way I am.

    So Mormons who baptize Jewish dead are actually committing an insult on two fronts: they are proselytizing, and further, they are disrespecting the dead. This is a step beyond the evangelicals of other groups, who stop with harassing the living.

    But at the same time? There’s this horribly patronizing lip service paid to Jews by Mormons (and Protestants, and Catholics, and many other groups, and it hurts me). Everyone says how much good there is in Judaism, how much they respect Judaism, how much good Jews have given to the world. (I don’t mean to single out the Mormon commenters here — I know you don’t intend offense when you say it.) But by posthumously baptizing our dead, the LDS Church is saying, at its highest levels, that they do not respect Jews or their beliefs. And this is a disrespect that is compounded by how Jews of all denominations have been politely asking the Mormon Church to stop putting dead Jews’ names in their roles — especially when they take the names wholesale from the registers of the dead at Yad Vashem, and not asking individual converts for their family histories. (The latter practice is between Mormons and Mormons, as far as I’m concerned.) It may be intended as a gesture of love and respect, but it’s an incredibly disrespectful gesture to us — especially because Jews in particular have a knotty history with forced conversion. And we’ve asked several times for the Mormons to stop, understanding that they don’t intend harm, but harm is being done nevertheless, because of their rewriting history on our dead’s behalf. And they won’t stop. That’s really the heart of the issue, not the baptism itself.

    I realize that to someone who doesn’t practice any of the religions at stake, it seems like fighting over something trivial. But to us, both Jews and Mormons, it is something very important and necessary — and something to be thought about when living in a pluralistic society. I don’t force anyone to offer kosher meat, I don’t tell my friends (Jewish or not) not to eat bacon (I actually went to a Shabbat dinner last night that served bacon-wrapped dates and had no problem), but I also don’t want people to force-feed me bacon. Ask politely, and when I refuse, accept and move on. Let me have my own damnation.

  20. Rachel #2 on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Sorry, I was writing at the same time as the Rachel above who posted at 4:54 PM. We are not the same person (and she is far more eloquent than me).

  21. Dr. Crazy on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    A totally non-useful and tangential comment: I was so freaked out as a 7-year-old learning about baptism in Catholic school (that if you somehow died before you were baptized that you would go to limbo! No heaven for you!) and so freaked out that this would mean many I’d never see many of my favorite… things? animals? … again that I proceeded to baptize (for we learned how to baptize in “an emergency” as part of these teachings) all of my favorite stuffed animals/dolls (not all of the ones I owned – just the ones I was especially attached to) and my pets. Because that’s how I rolled with my Catholicism as a kid. Apparently, I didn’t subscribe to the whole “people are special because they have free will and are made in God’s image” business, nor did I get the whole “shedding of earthly burdens” part of heaven :)

    On a less stupid note, I’ve really enjoyed reading these comments, which have something less heretical to say about baptism than any of my offerings….

  22. Rachel #1 on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    And I was going to say that Rachel #2 has spoken more clearly than me about many of the issues at hand.

    I also think the issue of disrespecting the dead is very important. It’s presumptuous and disrespectful for another group to attempt to determine the fate of the dead who have never indicated any interest in an alternate belief system. In that sense it desecrates the dead as well as the living’s memory of them. Jews say the mourner’s kaddish for 11 months after someone dies — and it’s a prayer not for the dead per se, but a signal to the community to comfort the mourner. Proxy baptism, even if it technically, according to Mormon theology, still grants the dead a choice, nonetheless harms rather than comforts the mourner. In that sense, there are living people at stake in this issue as well.

    Hence, even if one does not personally find the Mormon practice offensive, surely it is not so difficult to understand why it so offends others.

  23. ej on 25 Feb 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    I have to agree with the Rachels above, especially #2. I find the practice incredibly offensive, and patronizing. It suggests that the LDS church knows what is best for everyone, and discounts the ability of others to make decisions about their own faith. Perhaps it is just hitting a nerve with me at the moment, because I’m feeling like lately a lot of people, notably politicians, seem to be telling me how to live my life (or afterlife). And I don’t appreciate it.

    As an atheist, I don’t particularly care if someone were to baptize me, since it has no meaning. But if I did ascribe to a religious belief, I would be bothered. And bothered on behalf of friends and family who were subjected to this. Even medieval Catholics were opposed to forcible conversion. And while they may have included “everyone” in their prayers, they pretty much meant other Catholics.

  24. Susan on 25 Feb 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    This is a terrific discussion. I am an Episcopalian, and the reason we don’t rebaptize converts is that we understand baptism as an initiation into the body of Christ, the Church. Once you are in, you are in; so if you have been baptized a Catholic, we will *receive* you into the Episcopal church; but we understand all those baptized in all denominations as part of the body of Christ.

    Like CC, I’ve always assumed that salvation is both a divine gift and in God’s power; this takes care of those who are not Christians. Actually, the best thing I ever read about life after death was the work of the Catholic theologian Thomas Kung, and he argued (and this is oversimplifying a very complex argument) that life after death — and therefore ideas of heaven and hell — should be understood less as physical places, more as our confrontation with our own lives.

  25. Kathy on 25 Feb 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    That’s interesting. I’d never thought of baptism of the dead as being prompted by an egalitarian impulse, but now it’s put that way, I can certainly see it makes sense (if you accept the internal logic of “salvation or damnation”).

  26. Bardiac on 25 Feb 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Is anyone else reminded of the medieval tale of St. Erkenwald? (In the tale, he drops a tear on the uncorrupted body of a Roman magistrate who then dissolves to dust.) I love the tale, but it’s a medieval tale.

    The current LDS practice, however, I find abhorrent and disrespectful. (I’m an athiest, for what little that matters.)

  27. Western Dave on 25 Feb 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Yet another Jew here, albeit one who has done a ton of study on Mormonism (my dissertation area had two LDS communities in it, I didn’t go looking to study this stuff). I’ve done a book review for Dialogue and even used to hang out at Times and Seasons, an academic Mormon blog where I explained to Mormons why Jews were offended by this practice. However, I would argue that most Jews are offended by “baptism of the dead” because they don’t understand it. It’s not baptism in the Christian sense (or in the sense that Jews were “baptized” before being killed in medieval Europe). It’s not a conversion. It’s not even the beginning of a conversion. Mormons believe that souls are eternal – that they pre-exist the body and continue to exist and evolve after the body in this world dies. The “baptism” ritual means the soul now has the opportunity to convert to LDS – and this is the important part – if it so chooses in the next life or plane of existence. A soul would not stop being Jewish if it did not want to. It’s not a conversion. It’s not a baptism. The soul doesn’t lose free will after it dies in this world. If this ritual weren’t called baptism, with all the nasty historical associations that Jews have with that ritual, then I don’t think it would be a problem nearly to the extent that it is.

  28. Shane in Utah on 25 Feb 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    If Colbert’s satire isn’t to your taste, there’s always this:

    http://alldeadmormonsarenowgay.com/

  29. Rachel #2 on 25 Feb 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Western Dave – What part of “the Mormon solution to the scandal of particularity was not that Christ is unnecessary, but that Christ can be brought to everyone in the afterlife” is not going to be offensive to Jews, seeing as believing Jesus is the Mashiach is fundamentally incompatible with being a Jew? The idea of opening the souls to the possibility of Jesus is blasphemy.

    Also, according to the article, the LDS Church has stopped the posthumous baptism of Jews, though individual Mormons still do, which negates much of my issue with the LDS church over this. The individual Mormons who still do it are condemned in the article.

    (BTW, Jews believe that all righteous Gentiles go to heaven, with righteous being defined as a follower of the Noahide Laws: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah. So as long as you guys aren’t eating the flesh of an animal while it’s still alive, you’re probably cool.)

  30. Western Dave on 25 Feb 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    @Rachel 2 Because the “baptism of the dead” doesn’t bring Jesus to the soul in the next plane of existence. It’s merely a precondition for the soul to make it’s own choice regarding Jesus’s divinity. As Jews, we are always free to reject Jesus. I don’t slam the door on missionaries in this life, I politely turn them away. From my perspective, the “baptism” is ringing my doorbell. I trust my soul will give them a glass of lemonade, accept the free copy of the Book of Mormon (hopefully the one with Documents and Covenants in it which is more useful for research purposes) and then show the missionaries out and I’ll go back to doing whatever it is I’m doing for eternity. (I’m not sure what it is, but I’m pretty sure it involves watching a lot of baseball.)

  31. Historiann on 25 Feb 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Rachels #1 and #2: I absolutely understand that LDS post-mortem baptism is offensive to many Jews. But as I said in the post, I don’t put any stock in baptism, prayer, or any other ritual practice or belief, so to that extent I probably don’t completely understand the outrage over *someone else’s* beliefs or ritual practices. I don’t particularly care if any Mormons out there want to baptize me virtually or post-mortem, but that’s very likely because I don’t have any religious convictions of my own.

    Western Dave’s comments get at the bridge I signaled toward, which was trying to understand the intent of LDS postmortem baptism in the history and life of the LDS community.

    This conversation reminds me of a book I recently read about cultural encounters, mortuary practices, and the importance of honoring the dead in particular ways: Erik Seeman’s The Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead. Clearly, even for many secular people and non-believers, the dead are still present and we have strong feelings about how they should (or should not be) honored and remembered. (My students loved the book BTW. It was really clearly and persuasively written, and they all seemed to get the interesting connections he makes between 17th C French Catholic and Wendat cultures.)

    I am still curious about what Mormon baptism is exactly, and why it’s not accepted as “good enough” as other Christian baptisms.

  32. Mary Catherine on 25 Feb 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    “Catholics are instructed to pray for the souls of the dead, and they may pray for you without talking it up much.”

    Well, but “pray for the souls of the dead” (and “offer it up to the souls in Purgatory,” btw, whenever you are suffering pain/discomfort/the slings and arrows of misfortune) does seem a bit different from a posthumous baptism of Anne Frank. First, the admonition seems more general than particularized (pray for all mortals, we all must die); and second, it doesn’t necessarily seek to retroactively impose a sacramental regime on someone of another faith: you can pray for someone as an expression of concern/good will, but without attempting to bring that person into your own confessional fold.

    Sorry, but LDS “baptism” of Jewish Holocaust victims just strikes me as creepy and offensive; it smacks of medieval ‘forced conversion,’ but with a specifically American happy face (what? me insult you?! I just wanted to say ‘have a nice day’…).

    Yes, religion is weird, no doubt, no argument, but so is every other manifestation of human culture that I can think of. Doesn’t mean we can’t have standards, can’t draw some lines in the sand. Multiculturalism requires mutual and reciprocal respect and toleration, and also a bit of humility: you can’t retroactively/posthumously lay claim to the souls of those who never even thought of belonging to your sect while they lived, and then cry foul when the inevitable criticisms roll in.

    (There is no such thing as a re-baptism or a second baptism in the RC Church, btw, the doctrine of which is quite clear that there is only one baptism. Converts from another Christian rite are therefore “conditionally baptized”: ‘if you have not already been baptized, I hereby baptize you.’ Most RC officials don’t much care about LDS rites, don’t take them seriously, but they acknowledge that Anglican and Presbyterian ceremonies might have some weight, might actually have taken hold, hence the conditional).

  33. Feminist Avatar on 25 Feb 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    As I understand things, the reason many branches of Christianity acknowledge each other’s baptism is because they share a consistent belief in the trinity, even if they differ in less essential parts of doctrine. The LDS also use the words ‘father, son and holy ghost’ in their baptism, but while they share the same ‘titles’ as in Christianity, they are believed to be fundamentally different entities, and moreover the nature of the trinity is considered fundamentally different. As a result, they aren’t viewed to be the same thing.

  34. Emma on 25 Feb 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    It’s offensive to force one’s religious beliefs and practices on someone else against that person’s will and desire, even if that person is dead. That doesn’t seem particularly difficult to understand.

  35. Rachel #2 on 25 Feb 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    @Western Dave – Setting aside for the moment that none of that is at all consistent with Jewish theology: is there any reason why Mormon missionaries can’t baptize souls after they themselves die, then? It seems awfully presumptuous to be baptizing souls for entrance into Mormon theology when they can’t have an honest and open conversation about it. And if they can’t, then, well, there’s something awfully strange about “opening” souls after death that has to be done during the life of the proselytizer. If souls are eternal, then surely it’s not necessary to be doing it in the here and now.

    Either way, the LDS church has officially stopped sanctioning the practice, so whether or not you yourself think it’s okay or not, both Jewish and Mormon mainstream authorities recognize that the practice is abhorrent. (And it is perfectly okay in Judaism to hold a minority opinion.)

    @Ann – You may not care about it personally, but it’s a very far cry from going, “I don’t personally find this offensive” to “anyone who finds this offensive should convert to Mormonism because they’re actually implying that Mormonism is right.” There are a number of reasons why religious and non-religious Jews alike find it offensive, which have been explained in depth here by many people. I understand the intent of Mormon baptism and I still find it offensive. My friends who are Mormon don’t believe in the practice. (According to them, Mormonism itself is about ripe for a liberal schism, and they expect to see one in the next 10-20 years.) The LDS Church has officially stopped the practice. It may come from a good intention, but it’s still horribly offensive — the same way that many “good ideas” end up reeking of patronizing paternalism.

    Think about it as though it’s “The Help” — instead of well-intentioned white people helping blacks reach civil rights and self-actualization, it’s well-intentioned Mormons helping members of other religions reach God. Only these other members are dead, and so they can’t protest the Mormon portrayal of baptism the way that blacks can rightly protest “The Help.” This issue isn’t the same order of magnitude as the issues in “The Help” to you — but to many people, unfortunately, civil rights isn’t a big deal, either. The missing ingredient is empathy.

  36. Urban Exile on 26 Feb 2012 at 7:20 am #

    As I read these comments, I am struck by the vigorous personal investment being made in concepts of “us and them” by many of the commenters.

    The Mormon post-death baptism sounds to me like an obsessive desire to make everyone “us”. Rachel #2′s great description of the exclusionary character of Judaism sounds to me like an emphatic cultural investment in defining “them as NOT us”. Mormons and Jews happened to be pitted against each other is this current matter, but many other groups of course do the same thing. Historiann’s logic is infallible: If you seriously feel threatened by someone else’s hokum, you give it power (voodoo, etc.). Remember the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree? Ignore the scary devils and you too can reach enlightenment, etc.

    Religion, in all its organized forms and in its persistent emphasis on the idea of “us NOT them”, brings great violence, sorrow and vitriol to the world, especially to those who are least able to protect themselves. You could argue that the dead are the best example of the latter, but I think the dead care not what nonsense we perpetuate. I do think, however, that little children who are starved, bombed and orphaned by adults who are obsessed with the imaginary borders we create to separate people DO care. And they, unlike the dead, are real.

  37. Historiann on 26 Feb 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Thanks, Urban Exile. I think it’s a *little* much to make the leap from religious difference to religious violence, though–I don’t think anyone here feels strongly enough about these issues to initiate a pogrom or a purge!

    I think the reason why Jews are commonly understood to be the major opponents of LDS post-mortem baptism is certainly because of Jewish history and the centuries-long persecution of European Jews in particular. But I also think it’s probably strongly linked to a point that Rachel #1 made waayyyy upthread, which was about Judiasm’s resolutely NON-evangelical history.

    I am sure that Mormons have probably baptized most dead Americans by now, of all religious backgrounds, but interestingly we don’t see the Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or other denominations protesting and demending a retraction, and I wonder if this is because of the fact that *all* Christians are in theory supposed to be evangelical. That, and being a part of mainline Christianity vs. a non-majority religion gives the former greater confidence in rejecting Mormon theology and finding post-mortem baptism a trivial peculiarity. Protestants and Catholics can take refuge in their numbers, which is something Jews can’t do in this country.

    In the end, it’s the similarities among Jews and Mormons that strike me at least as much as the differences: both are tiny minorities in the American religious landscape, and both have their history of vicious and violent persecution (albeit the Jews have a much, much longer one when we look at the history of the globe, and the LDS have a more violent history of persecution in the U.S. in particular.) And it’s here where I think Rachel #2′s point about a lack of empathy is perhaps most relevant. Given their shared history of religious persecution, I wonder about the determination of some LDS folk who persist in including Jewish dead among the lists they’re preparting for post-mortem baptism.

    After all: there are so many other dead Americans one could baptize–so many dead Catholics, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, not to mention profane scoffers at all religions like myself!

    Outrage over someone else’s religious beliefs and rituals might be justified, but I don’t think it’s bound to change much. Not sharing those beliefs is probably the most any of us can do about other religions.

  38. Western Dave on 26 Feb 2012 at 8:51 am #

    @Rachel 2. I’ve pretty much reached my limits of knowledge on Mormon baptism practices. Russel Arben Fox might be swinging by later today to explain the finer points of LDS baptism practices. As for stopping the practice regarding Jews, my understanding is that the LDS is currently saying it’s ok to do it if the person in question is an ancestor but no copying of names in mass and group “baptism”, which was never really kosher to begin with, as far as I can tell.

  39. Rachel #2 on 26 Feb 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Urban Exile – Instead of it being “them NOT us”, how about thinking of it as a struggle to be defined on your own terms, and not in the terms set by any other culture/race/religious group? That includes your own.

    I don’t care if religion isn’t important to you: I’m not asking you to believe or accept it, I’m not asking you to go out of your way to accomodate it. I’m saying that you have to accept that there are principles in this debate beyond what is important to you, personally, you — and that dismissing those principles as hokum is offensive to the people with a horse in the race. (And the way you’re paraphrasing me is offensive to me as well, but that is, neither of us have the other’s cultural frame: when you refer to Judaism as “exclusionary”, I bet it connotes something quite different to me than it does to you.)

    Ignoring the impact of religion, or having a debate on something that is a religious principle (posthumous baptism being something that is only of concern to people who are religious) and ignoring the precepts of any of the religions at stake is a form of cultural imperialism. “This is stupid, why aren’t people more like me? I’m the one who’s right” is a thought that, in an actual serious discussion about the principles at stake, should remain in your head.

  40. quixote on 26 Feb 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Well, I’m one who thinks almost all organized religions are droll cults, when they’re not being engines of hell on Earth. From my perspective, the vision of grown men carefully performing rituals for people who aren’t there and couldn’t care is roll-on-the-floor-funny. Does the phrase “get a life” mean nothing to them?

    But, and to me this is the important point, if that wasn’t my perspective, I’d want it respected. There would be a big element of “Where in hell do these bozos get off, putting their grubby spiritual mitts on people I love?” There’s a lack of consent in the relationship that is enough to make it offensive.

    Not that any of the world’s many cults is all that respectful of consent. It would be nice if they could all wrap their heads around the concept of respect, both for outsiders and for their own members.

  41. quixote on 26 Feb 2012 at 9:18 am #

    (I see I’m on the same page as Rachel #2, and probably others. :))

  42. truffula on 26 Feb 2012 at 9:21 am #

    It seems to me that it may just not be possible for people who are not believers to understand exactly why and how baptism matters to believers. Part of what matters about faith is that it is just that, faith.

  43. Rachel #2 on 26 Feb 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Ann – I absolutely agree on the similarities on Mormons and Jews in this country, and we do talk about this frequently together — which is why it’s a touchy subject, because religions that usually have respect for each other, suddenly don’t on this topic. (I am wondering if there’s going to be a “Reform Mormon” and “Conservative Mormon” movement: the seeds are there.)

    Western Jack – I would say, when it’s limited to ancestors of current Mormons, then it’s now a topic between Mormons and Mormons, or at least Mormons and their direct ancestors in the afterlife. (Which, if the afterlife is anything like how I imagined it as a child, would contain a lot of “you did what?!” recriminations and family arguments. Ah, Jewish heaven.) It’s the “baptizing everybody!” regardless of claim that is an issue.

    Quixote, truffula – Exactly. And it’s not, “I’m right, you’re wrong, you’re going to hell for not being the same as me,” and more, “the parameters you’re setting up are not conducive to this debate and actually willfully obscure the issue at hand.” The issue isn’t who’s going to heaven, but rather respect and empathy for all sides.

  44. Profane on 26 Feb 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Contingent Cassandra: Any other baptized Christian (Catholic, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, etc.) we would, on principle, refuse to re-baptize, because baptism isn’t something you do twice (I’m not sure exactly why).

    Feminist Avatar: I also know Catholics and Protestants who have been rebaptised when converting across sect; mainly because they see this rituals as important signifiers of their conversion. AND, I also know people who understand baptism as a washing away of sin and get rebaptised everytime they return from ‘backsliding’.

    Mary Catherine: (There is no such thing as a re-baptism or a second baptism in the RC Church, btw, the doctrine of which is quite clear that there is only one baptism. Converts from another Christian rite are therefore “conditionally baptized”: ‘if you have not already been baptized, I hereby baptize you.’

    This issue stems from the version of the Nicene Creed adopted at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, which states: ‘We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.’ This was, in part, because some ancient Christians adopted a view like that which Feminist Avatar describes – multiple baptisms could remit sins – which would allow them to game the system by avoiding that whole repentence thingy. At least from 381 onwards, orthodox Christian theology in credal churches (and most non-credal churches) has held that further baptisms are both superfluous and ineffectual.

    I once had a RC student who was secretly baptized by both her grandmothers (without the knowledge of each other), prior to what they saw as a delayed church baptism. Technically, it was the first baptism by the first grandmother which was valid, since all you need for a baptism is water, a Christian, and an invocation of the Trinity.

    My Episcopal prayer book has, in addition to a form for conditional baptism, a ceremony for ‘Emergency Baptism.’ Should one be performed, there are instructions for the aftermath: “The person who administers emergency Baptism should inform the priest of the appropriate parish, so that the fact can be properly registered. If the baptized person recovers, the Baptism should be recognized at a public celebration of the Sacrament with a bishop or priest presiding, and the person baptized under emergency conditions, together with the sponsors or godparents, taking part in everything EXCEPT THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE WATER.”

    Anabaptists, of course held that infant baptism was not a true baptism, which is why they ‘Re-Baptized.’

  45. Emma on 26 Feb 2012 at 11:09 am #

    “Historiann’s logic is infallible: If you seriously feel threatened by someone else’s hokum, you give it power (voodoo, etc.).”

    Like, you know, when their hokum is written into law (fetuses have “personhood”) or when it’s catered to by the government (employers don’t have to pay for birth control in their health plans). Come on women! Don’t give the hokum power over you!

    The principle at stake doesn’t matter what the particular beliefs are. The principle is: your religion doesn’t get to run other people’s lives, or deaths. But, of course, it’s more fun to poke a stick at people who object on the grounds of their own hokum.

    I’d rather spend my time arguing for “keep your hokum to yourself” rather than “it’s all mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it don’t matter”. But that’s just me.

  46. Emma on 26 Feb 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Of course, it’s also fun to argue that tolerating intolerance = good liberal tolerance as long as your ox isn’t being gored and you can give rein to your similar intolerance by arguing that the gored ox is meaningless, anyway!! And it all looks like tolerance for the WIN!!

  47. truffula on 26 Feb 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    The principle is: your religion doesn’t get to run other people’s lives,

    Religions don’t run other people’s lives, other people do. Religion is just a handy tool and convenient place to hide. If the @ssholes weren’t whacking you with a holy book, they’d be whacking you with something else.

  48. Rachel #2 on 26 Feb 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Emma, I am giving many thumbs-up in your general direction. :)

  49. Comradde PhysioProffe on 26 Feb 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I’m a jew, and the only reason I’m offended by this fucken mormon baptizing dead people bullshitte is because *all* this goddamn motherfucken delusional religious gibberish is a fucken blight on humanity. Religion ranks up there with war, rape, genocide, murder, and torture in the panoply of the worst impulses of humankind, and has led to similar amounts of pain, suffering, misery, and death.

  50. Historiann on 26 Feb 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Emma, people’s lawful religious practices do not have the force of law. It is an over-the-top false equivalency that you are drawing. Yes, fetal “personhood” is hokum, but it’s only dangerous when it is written into the law. That is not what’s at stake here.

    When LDS baptisms are foisted upon unwilling live Jews by force of law, then you’ll have a point. But only then.

  51. Susan on 26 Feb 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Re. outrage at Mormon rebaptisms: it’s not just Jews. Some Church of England bishops in the 1970s refused permission to the Mormons for microfilming parish records precisely because they were offended by the rebaptism process.

  52. Historiann on 26 Feb 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Interesting–I hadn’t heard this. Thanks, Susan. I wonder if the bishops gave up, because I haven’t heard of this about any Christian denominations lately.

  53. Feminist Avatar on 26 Feb 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Well as recently as 2008, the Vatican forbid their records (ie those held by the diocesans in whatever country) being accessed by the LDS for this reason. I doubt they’ve changed their position on this. I also remember some controversy when the UK archives made a deal with the LDS over digitising the census a few years back, but I can’t remember the nature of the controversy now and can’t find a quick google reference.

    The CofE in the UK are in a harder position to refuse as many of their records are no longer held by them anymore.

  54. Emma on 27 Feb 2012 at 10:06 am #

    “Religions don’t run other people’s lives, other people do. Religion is just a handy tool and convenient place to hide. If the @ssholes weren’t whacking you with a holy book, they’d be whacking you with something else.”

    So why this weird insistence that Jews aren’t allowed to be offended by Mormons whacking away at them with Mormonism and their Mormon “holy book”?

    I think it’s really interesting that we’re supposed to take a bunch of (Mormon) cultists at their word about why they’re engaging in wholesale colonization just because the people they’re colonizing are (Jewish) cultists.

    It seems to boil down to Mormon cult practices aren’t offensive either because a) the Mormon cultists say so or b) their aggression is just against other cultists who have no standing to be offended because they’re also cultists.

    So Mormon cultists are defended on religious grounds while secular objections to Mormon cult practices are pooh-poohed as an “over the top false equivalency”. When comes the lecture about how secular leftists are making the religious-tolerant lefists LOOK BAD?!?

    Also, it’s not a false equivalancy: the underlying *secular* principle is the same. Keep your damn religion to yourself even if you’re only aggressing against fellow cultists. Because the type of “religious tolerance” being argued for here really *is* a slippery slope.

  55. Rachel O. on 27 Feb 2012 at 10:56 am #

    I’m neither Rachel #1 or #2–another Rachel altogether. I didn’t read the entire thread, but, Historiann, just in case no one answered your question, Mormons do not baptize infants. They believe in an age of consent (teenage years, I think), just like another Christian movement that began at the same time–the Campbellite movement. Adult water baptism for these folks! (I’ve done some research on LDS for my dissertation on religious experiences and ethics in the antebellum era.)

  56. Travis Griggs on 27 Feb 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Interesting discussions. Disclaimer, “I am a Mormon.” But I’ll do my best to be abstract and think out of the box. :)

    A couple have already done a great job of attempting to highlight the subtle points about the LDS’s theology’s prime directive that “the Agency of the Soul” is paramount. And how this jades just what proxy baptisms are, and aren’t. I notice some seem to try and appreciate that, others are too busy to get it. To shed some light on the other questions and issues that I see, and these are of course my answers only, not official ones, go to LDS.org to get the quotable/definitive answers before reading my ramblings as authoritative proof of anything…

    + Is the Mormon baptismal ritual accepted by other Christian creeds? If not, why not? I’m not aware of any cases where it is. There may be some edge cases. Many will talk about theological differences. In my opinion though, it’s much simpler than that. LDS don’t accept the baptismal ritual of any other Christian creeds, so turn-about ends up being fairplay. Among the reformationist sects there’s a sort of “free trade” agreement. But the LDS faith puts a huge store on modern revelation, where “revelation” is actually a pretty broad idea, including authority. To become a member of the LDS church, you have to be baptized by an authorized priesthood holder, little wonder that other faiths don’t reciprocate by validating the LDS baptism. The latter day saints take the authority to perform rituals quite seriously, to levels similar to that found amongst the levitical tribe’s rights found in the Old Testament.

    + Why does the LDS church have a pact with the Jewish community, but not other religious communities, such as the Catholics or Anglican bishops, both who have at times in the past, raised a similar stink? The church’s BYU Jerusalem Center is really important to the church. At the time the church was granted to build the Jerusalem Center, the agreement regarding posthumous baptisms was granted. I guess it was deemed worth the cost. Theologically, it was probably a justifiable exception, given the Jewish people’s “reserved” status in the LDS understanding of the bigger picture (i.e. they’re the Lord’s covenant/chosen people and he’ll make sure it all works out with them). But if it weren’t for the Jerusalem Center, and a feeling that the church needs to have some presence in the Holy Land, I don’t think you’d see the church granting special exceptions to Jewish ancestry.

    + Does the practice of proxy baptism serve a practical purpose? I mean other than it’s theological roots in Paul’s statements and the revelation received by modern day leaders? I think it does. In general, the practice helps members focus on something other than the here and now. Regardless of whether the persons the baptisms are being performed for are close family ancestry, or just a name on a piece of paper, it’s a time to reflect on the past. As well as the future. Regardless of the validity of a mythology around a practice that helps people think a little bit past the immediacy of the here and now, the practice is a good thing for people. The other reality, is that for many LDS, when performing proxy baptisms, they may be reminiscing about their own personal baptism, recommitting to what it means for them. It’s a sort of a loophole for the fact that for LDS, baptism is a one time thing (as opposed to other reformationist creeds that allow repeated baptisms, every time feeling you need to re-up on your contract with God).

    + Is a liberal schism imminent in the LDS faith? I seriously doubt it. But will there be a wave of people who are about ready to peel off and leave the LDS faith behind, headed for more “englihtened” and “less encumbered” grounds? Probably. This won’t be anything new for the LDS faith. As many as 15% of the church body left the church near the end of their 3 year stay in Kirtland OH in the 1800′s. A number of people left the faith during the secession crisis (there were more saints in the British Isles during this point than there were in the US actually). And when the church traded the practice of polygamy for statehood, there were many who left or at least set themselves aside, so to speak. These cycles of conversion and apostasy are rooted throughout the entire narrative of the Book of the Mormon. The Old Testament provides a similar narrative of leave and return to the faith.

    + Thoughts on offense. I find this the most interesting part of this debate, as it rages across various blogs and websites. Offense is a choice that the offended makes. It’s not like being hit in the arm, where the pain you feel is not in question. When someone says something about me, or does something that doesn’t deal with me, I make the choice to be offended. Or not to be offended. I’m not trying to be harsh or indifferent or offensive. But the choice for a person to be offended is that person’s. I could choose to be offended every time someone mocks or belittles what I take seriously. I’m a good guy that contributes to society in positive ways, I take care of the poor and sick, give when I can, try to raise a moral family, etc, so why then do I have to put up with ripping mormons left and right, usually on baseless and hurtful terms. I can choose to be offended by this, or not. It is up to me. Frankly, giving up my agency to determine what makes me happy, giving it to the actions of someone else so that it is out of my control, is silly of me. I could choose to be offended that the Jewish people of the past chose to crucify a so-called-Jesus-person and don’t recognize the gravity of what that might mean. That would be silly of me. Ask yourself this. If these newsworthy baptisms had happened back in the 50′s, long before the Jerasulem center existed, long before there was a Mormon or two in the political limelight, would you still be “so offended” by it?

  57. Emma on 27 Feb 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Who gives a flying shit about Mormon excuses for their aggression against other people? Why should I, or any secular leftist, spend even a second caring about Mormon theology? It comes down to this: Keep your damn hands to yourself. Stop trying to indoctrinate people into your foolish cult even if they *are* dead.

    This: “Offense is a choice that the offended makes” is the same pile of self-serving shit that agressors always serve up when people object to their aggression.

  58. Emma on 27 Feb 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    And, on the question of “false” equivalancies: Prop 8.

  59. Historiann on 27 Feb 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Prop. 8 is a better example in your favor, but it doesn’t forbid the gay marriage of *dead* people. Again, post-mortem baptisms may be distasteful, but it’s neither required nor enforced by law.

    I don’t know see how the law could productively intervene in the dispute here. Forbidding LDS post-mortem baptisms would be an infringement of the First Amendment, and I don’t believe that the dead are covered by the Bill of Rights or U.S. Constitution at all.

  60. Emma on 27 Feb 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I’m not advocating for the law intervening.

    I’m advocating for not tolerating intolerance under the (mis)rationale that only irrational people get offended by that particular intolerance.

    I’m advocating for not taking bigots’ word for it that what they’re doing isn’t bigotry.

    I’m reminding everybody that Mormon baptisms aren’t a stand-alone event, to be evaluated in the benign light they’d like you to take it. Rather, they’re of a piece with other Mormon intolerances and bigotry, such as Prop 8, such as a theology of racism, such as a theology of woman-hatred.

    I’m advocating for a secular, all purposes, standard of “keep your religion to yourself” which serves just as well in this instance as any other and serves the same purposes in all instances: confine your bigotry/hokum to the four walls of your bigoted/hokum-creating institution.

    The attitude expressed in this piece seems to be: “Well, since it only offends those deluded enough to take their own hokum seriously, what does it hurt? Meh, who cares.”

    It doesn’t offend me because I have a religion. It offends me because it’s bigotry forced on other people and, yes, it’s forced on living people, too — the ancestors of the “baptized” dead. It’s not a theological debate, though that’s where everybody seems to want it. It’s a civil society debate wherein forcing your religious beliefs and practices on others is a violation of a standard precept of civil society: keep it to yourself. And it’s a violation that isn’t sufficiently answered by: “It’s only offensive if you *think* it is.”

  61. Historiann on 27 Feb 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Fine. Be offended–I just don’t think that’s a productive way to be about someone else’s religious beliefs and rituals. I don’t like most religious ideas, and in fact some offend me–I guess I can just open a window and holler, can’t I? But what good does it do?

    This post attempted to understand LDS post-mortem baptism on its own terms and the problems in Christian theology it engages. I don’t have a problem with their practices because 1) I don’t believe they’re accomplishing anything for the dead, merely annoying the living, and 2) that’s the way things roll in a pluralistic society.

    But, really: be offended by the Taliban. Be offended by Lubavitchers. There are lots of people who give offense.

  62. Emma on 27 Feb 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    “This post attempted to understand LDS post-mortem baptism on its own terms”

    Why? Given this statement: “I don’t like most religious ideas”, why bother to engage this particular “idea”, i.e. the practice of forced baptism?

    You’re able to “defend” forced baptism in the name of (false) pluralism because your ox isn’t gored. Then when people complain about their oxen being gored, you dismiss that complaint as itself arising from the speaker’s own “hokum” and therefore valueless in a “pluralistic” society.

    Meanwhile, you show a distinct disinclination to situate the practice of forced baptism within all the other religious practices that Mormons would similarly force on everybody.

    Defending forced religious practices isn’t defending a pluralistic society. You’ve got the whole thing exactly backwards.

    Pluralism doesn’t require non-believers to graciously acquiesce to religious practices being forced on them because, in your estimation, all religious practices are “meaningless” “hokum” that are nothing more than “annoying”.

    Pluralism requires that nobody have religious practices forced on them, at all, ever, regardless of the personal meaning or non-meaning any particular person may find in those practices.

    And, also, you’re really going to take Mormons’ *word* for it that they’re just being *nice*?

    And, you know what I *am* offended by the Taliban. I *am* offended by the Lubavitchers. But it’s exactly my vision of pluralism that means that they don’t get to force their religious views on me.

    Your vision of pluralism would have us defining some forced theocracy as ok, because essentially meaningless, and some not ok because, you know, something that “really” mattered was affected.

  63. Historiann on 27 Feb 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    “This post attempted to understand LDS post-mortem baptism on its own terms.” Why?

    Because I am a historian and this is a history blog. MOST of the ideas I engage here I’m not terribly wild about, especially those in my research field, but it’s my job.

    Defending forced religious practices isn’t defending a pluralistic society. You’ve got the whole thing exactly backwards.

    Forced religious practices? You’ve got to be kidding me. You continue to ignore the fact that we are talking about the baptism of the dead.

    You’re done here.

  64. Anonymous on 27 Feb 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    The idea that a Mormon might baptize me without my knowledge/consent, alive or dead, annoys me a fair amount. But it only annoys me exactly as much as a Christian praying for my soul to change.

    That is the real equivalency here – stopping the phenomenon of people praying for people who don’t wish to be the subject/object of other people’s spiritual lives.

    Praying for people is presumptuous and offensive and jerky true believers a)don’t see it that way, b)will never stop, and c)are offending mostly in their own minds.

  65. Western Dave on 27 Feb 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Oh Travis, you couldn’t let well enough alone could you? Where to begin? Have you never heard of Marriner Eccles? You never heard of George Romney? Or maybe Reed Smoot? Sigh, it’s not about current politics. It is about theology and pluralism.

  66. Susan on 28 Feb 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Feminist Avatar, even when C of E records are in a county record office, you need permission from the parish to film them. And diocesan records can’t be filmed without the bishops permission. I once had a long – and in retrospect funny – exchange with a PCC to get permission to film a parish register.
    (Just thought I’d bring history back in…)

  67. Mormon secrets revealed! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 29 Feb 2012 at 9:04 am #

    [...] Thinking about that thread on LDS post-mortem baptism of people of other faiths left me wondering:  did some of the commenters actually know what Morman post-mortem baptism entails?  I knew all along that there is no use of human remains, no disinterrment, and no real involvement at all of the baptisees and their families.  If this kind of thing were central to the ritual, then I would share the outrage that some expressed at the practice.  Perhaps people really thought there was some kind of involuntary conscription involved that went beyond uttering someone’s name while a live Mormon undergoes a symbolic baptism on behalf of the baptisee? [...]

  68. Kathy on 05 May 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    So. I converted to Judaism, and there is nothing worse than a convert. I was appalled and insulted when I found out that the Mormons baptised Anne Frank post mortem. I had a similar repulsive experience at the death bed of my Jewish friend. Our mutual christian friend insisted on praying over him CHAPEL PRAYERS! To ensure his entrance into Heaven. It’s so obnoxious, it is beyond my understanding.

  69. Canof Sand on 17 Sep 2012 at 11:25 am #

    “Posthumous baptizing — and I’ve always had it explained to me that the person is now and forever retroactively Mormon, in LDS beliefs, which is rewriting history”
    “forced conversion”

    Seems these sorts of ideas are the crux for all the “offense” and “outrage” . Yet not only are they patently untrue, they were debunked in this very thread. Yet people are still offended. Seems to me that many of you guys don’t actually WANT to understand the LDS people and their beliefs, that you’d PREFER to remain in ignorance so as to justify your own prejudices, and that’s far more offensive than anything the Mormons are doing.

  70. Tsdh on 20 Jan 2013 at 10:21 am #

    It is ridiculous to try to justify the morons. They are the most disrespectful people on the planet. Good luck to me as my mom joined the moron cult 20 years ago. She has spent those years doing the genealogical thing and has done hundreds of proxy baptisms on my Jewish and non Jewish ancestors on her side of the family as well as my fathers side. It really sucks because I believe my ancestors were soul raped as will my name be blasphemed eventually and we have no say about it. Believe me as an outsider whose family member is in that cult, the intention is evil not good. Their belief is that the men will be gods in the afterlife. This proxy baptizing is about populating their planets with slaves and prostitutes for their own pleasures. You can say its all hocus pocus and it doesn’t matter but it’s an insult and causes trauma and emotional harm to the living who believe as I do that their relatives are being legally tortured by this insane cults desecration of the non believers name. I hate the moron cult and all their evil ways. My related moron has the temple recommend obviously because they’re constantly going to sl temple to do their nasty stuff. It’s so gross. They also have on many occasions stolen from and taken advantage of vulnerable non-lds family members. They have no values in regards to non-morons. The problem is people who put up with crap and actually defend it. Go to ancestor.com and if you’ve had a Mormon family member you will see that now all your ancestors were Mormon. That’s what your descendants will find out about you too. Disgusting cult.

  71. Apparently there’s a place in Muslim heaven for Useful Infidels | Augean Stables on 10 Mar 2013 at 5:10 am #

    [...] It’s nice to know that he got flak for this statement (which you don’t have to be Muslim to find grotesquely brown-nosing). Apparently, Ahmadinejad is so desperate for friends in the international community that he considers enthusiastic useful infidels honorary Muslims. Shades of the Mormons doing post-mortem baptisms. [...]